You are currently viewing A Lancaster For Nanton – The Legacy of George White, Howard Armstrong and Fred Garratt

A Lancaster For Nanton – The Legacy of George White, Howard Armstrong and Fred Garratt

The Bomber Command Museum of Canada (formerly the Nanton Lancaster Air Museum) is the legacy of George White, Howard Armstrong, and Fred Garratt, three prominent Nanton citizens of their day. They were visionaries. While others saw an old aircraft as scrap aluminium -a source of pots and pans, George, Howie, and Fred saw it instead as a tourism attraction, a memorial, and perhaps some day, even more.

Related Articles

Lancaster FM-159
The Canadian Lancasters
The Lancaster Bomber

George had the idea. He was a soft-spoken farmer and rancher who lived west of town near the foothills on land his family had homesteaded. He always had a weakness for airplanes. His interest may have been kindled during the war when pilots training at the nearby No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School at High River landed Tiger Moths on the family farm in order to visit his sister. The pilots, of course, were supposed to be practicing flying not visiting girls, so in order to burn off the necessary fuel they would chock the wheels and leave the engine running while they chatted with George’s sister. Eventually George obtained his private pilot’s license but was generally too busy with the farm work to do much flying.

When George mentioned his scheme to Howie Armstrong, the response was an instant, “Count me in.” Howie owned Armstrong’s Department and Variety Store in Nanton. It was his idea to declare that the spring water that was piped to town from the nearby foothills was, “Canada’s Finest Drinking Water.” The title was never disputed and Howie’s declaration led to Nanton acquiring the nickname “Tap-Town” after he and friends made the water available to passing motorists. This, in turn, led to Nanton Water Ltd. becoming one of the first companies in Canada to bottle and sell drinking water. Howie was a tireless promoter of the town and his efforts directed towards acquiring the Lancaster and “The Tap” were only two of many initiatives he took to champion the town he loved.

Fred Garratt operated McKeage and Garratt Hardware in Nanton with George McKeage. Like Howie, Fred needed little encouragement to get involved. When the Lancaster was being vandalized and thieves were stealing anything of value from the interior, it was Fred who worked diligently to try to protect the aircraft.

When FM159 arrived in Nanton it was complete and could have flown had the engines and propellers not been removed. Two years later it was a gutted shell, thieves having removed the instruments and interior equipment and vandals having broken the cockpit, turrets, and bomb-aimers perspex, and torn the fabric of the control surfaces. The aircraft was on the edge of town at the time and despite efforts by Fred Garratt and others, there was no stopping the vandalism.

In 1962 volunteers began to put FM159 back on the road to recovery from its sorry state. Engines and propellers were purchased and installed. The aircraft was placed on steel mounts, its tail high in the air to limit access. Fortunately those in charge took the time to ensure that the aircraft would not be damaged. Steel mounts were fabricated and the aircraft continued to rest on its landing gear.

(l-r) George White, Mrs. Fred Garratt and Howie Armstrong turn the sod for FM159’s new home.

Harry Dwelle fabricated aluminum “windows” to cover the broken perspex. This was most important as bird droppings cause rapid corrosion in an aluminium airplane. Ray McMahon, together with his family and friends, repaired the exterior as much as possible and painted the aircraft.

The trio that purchased FM159 then donated the aircraft to the Town. Over the following twenty years volunteers and service clubs did what they could to keep FM159 looking its best as millions of people drove by on Highway No. 2 and the “Nanton Bomber” became a symbol for the Town.

In 1986, when no one seemed to know what to do with the Nanton Lancaster, George White took the lead in organizing the Nanton Lancaster Society. He became its founding president and played an active role on the Board of Directors for the next seventeen years.